Northampton City Council votes to throw support behind statewide universal health care bill

By Lucas Ropek
MassLive, August 17, 2017

Northampton City Council voted Thursday night in favor of a resolution that hopes to show local support for state healthcare reform.

The Northampton City Council's resolution throws support behind Senate Bill S.619, which, if enacted by the state legislature, would allegedly "guarantee life-long medical care, including preventive, dental, and eye care, for all Massachusetts residents," according to a release about the bill.

With Thursday night's resolution, Northampton joins a cadre of other western Massachusetts communities--including Deerfield, Leverett, Colrain, Leyden, and Plainfield--that have already signed resolutions showing support for the state bill.

Popularly known as "single payer," the universal healthcare model has been touted by progressives for years but broke into more mainstream political discourse last year as a result of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, which frequently floated "single payer" as a superior alternative to market-based healthcare.

Single payer offers a healthcare system in which the financing of care is centralized within one public or quasi-public agency, while delivery of care, itself, remains privatized. It differs from healthcare under the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) in which financing burdens are split between private and public entities.

A number of local political organizations--including the Northampton Area League of Women Voters and the city's Indivisible chapter--have claimed responsibility for pushing for the Northampton resolution into the spotlight.

"The League has been very involved with health care issues since the early 1990's when we studied our health care delivery system and found it very lacking," said Christopher Flory, Committee Chair for the Northampton League of Women Voters, in an email. A spokesman for the League, Lou Bouley was present at Thursday's meeting and made the case for the resolution before the Council.

Flory said that single payer was the next and ultimate step for healthcare in the U.S. The ACA, he said, had allowed Americans to finally understand that "access to health care allows us the freedom to focus on jobs and children with much less worry. We hope that barriers to affordable health care for all will finally become a goal."  

The resolution has been shown support not just by local affiliations, however.

A large crowd of Northampton based doctors, nurses, therapists and other health professionals took the opportunity Thursday to share the experiences of their patients, describing the inadequacies of the current healthcare model and often characterizing it as a dysfunctional, expensive, and overly bureaucratic system.

Marty Nathan, a physician at the Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield and a Northampton resident, related the tale of a man she once knew who was in the midst of a heart-attack but refused to go to the hospital because he said the medical bills were too costly. "I have had so many people who have just refused to come in until they were near death's door," said Nathan, explaining how she had spent much of her career "rationing" or watching her patients "ration" their own healthcare coverage because of impossibly high bills.

Nathan further commented that for as long as she could remember she had been a member of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)--a non-profit research and education organization made up of health professionals who seek to establish a single payer healthcare system within the United States. "We need medicare for all, we have needed it for as long as I have been a doctor," Nathan said.

Daniel Marotta, chair of the Economic Justice Committee and a third-year resident in psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center, said that passing the local resolution was an opportunity to build on state and national momentum aimed at reforming the healthcare system. "This is a consciousness raising moment in which Americans are coming to see healthcare as a right, and in which we as a whole are realizing that we are putting more into the healthcare system than we are getting out of it," Marotta said. 

Marotta placed the majority of the blame for current healthcare inadequacies on the structure of the institution itself, noting that actors from the insurance and medical fields are largely well-intentioned individuals who are nevertheless forced to "function in a dysfunctional system." 

"A system that passes on to its people the crude calculus of choosing between their life and their livelihood is an immoral system," Marotta concluded. "How long are we going to listen to arguments that the market will sort things out when every year the costs continue to rise?"

The resolution has a second reading scheduled for the Council's meeting on Sept. 7. However, noted Council President William H. Dwight, the unanimous votes from Thursday night should give city residents "some indication about the prospects" for the resolution's success.